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Adventures in Writing, Reading & Book Culture

Day 16: At Hradcany Castle



Prague Bridges

I worked on THE VILLAGE WIT rewrites this morning for a few hours, then felt couped up in my penthouse apartment, so I thought since I live in Prague I might as well explore a bit of the city. I went out with the idea of doing some reading in the castle gardens, which (reading, that is) always gets me in the mood to write. This method helped me while living in Malta to get so many bricks for the wall that has become the completed novel. With some tricky additions needed (letters between the main characters composed of invented stories about love gone bad), I wanted to capture some of that magic I’d discovered in Malta, writing in a tablet overlooking Marsalforn.

Prague Panarama

Prague Castle (hrad) sits high above the Vltava River, looking onto old and new towns (NovĂ©- and Staro- mestra). The castle dates to 900 years ago, or so, shortly after Praha (meaning “threshold” for its placement as a trading crossroads between eastern and western Europe; thus the proud Bohemian-Moravian boast of being “Central” Europeans, not eastern, like the hated Russians, or western, like the snooty and strongarmed Germans).St Vitas at Hrad Hrad is a place that one will hear 12 different languages in 10 minutes, and none of them Czech. The gardens, however, are expansive, and benches abound in the most outoftheway spots. This is where I was headed. I had not been to the Royal Gardens before, so this was my first stop. Pretty, with all sorts of trees, flowers, and panting tourists (it was 83 degrees today). Apparently, one of the past regents was a lay-botonist (kings have lots of free time), so he planted various tree genuses found across Europe. The layout is typically elegant, with walking paths behind walls that kept out the great unwashed. And should an attack from foreign armies come, the king needed only to run across the bridge, shut the giant iron gate, and tease the marauders with a classic Stooges gibe, “Nya nya-nya nya nya nyaaaaa!”

Looking down over the bridge, I noticed the moat was deeply set against the hillside. Water, that great natural barrier, had long since been pumped out of the moat. Today, walking paths run its length, benches are set beneath shady trees, wide lawns show inviting sunshine, and I saw but five people walking down there. This was where I decided to go.

The MoatNear the old Bear Keeper’s house stands a statue honoring the night watchmen who kept … well … watch during the night. Today that person has been replaced by a Czech army ranger, a semi-automatic rifle slung loosely over his shoulder. He watched me carefully, but I’m sure my green plaid shorts, Wilson sports cap, and sandals didn’t scare him.

I found a bench dappled in sunlight, read Byatt’s “Possession” for about five minutes (she has a fabulous sequence of letters passed between two poets during a year’s time in 1848), and got some inspiration to toss ideas across my writing tablet. An hour later, I was ready to move around. This is when I came across the royal tennis court, one red-clay court at the west end of the old moat; I wondered who got to play on this puppy these days. Certainly not former President Vaclav Havel, since his lung cancer surgery left him with one working lung (I hear he still smokes, though).

The Night WatchmanSo up then I climbed out of the moat, and worked my way through a bit of Hradcany township, over some very old and stubby cobblestones, until I ran into a group of Italians bitching about a church that had just closed its doors for the day. These streets are narrow, hundreds of years old, with high walls behind which live government officials and Prague’s nouveau riche.

As I walked toward the castle, I heard beautiful violin music in the square outside the castle gates. It sounded like a chamber concert going on near the streetlight candelabra (a huge streetlight “tree” is about how I can describe it best). As I came into the square, I didn’t see musicians sitting in chairs with people standing nearby watching and listening, as I expected. Instead, I passed the corner of building and tucked into a receding corner, stood a middle-aged man in slacks and shirt as though he’d just come from work, moving his bow over the strings of his violin. This unassuming man (I say this because, often, street musicians will dress in period costume, such as I saw a child “virtuoso” in 1994 while in Prague, dressed as the child Mozart. How terribly kitschy!) this man had chosen a good spot from which to play, because the stone corner threw his music out far into the square. He might have been in a hall. In fact he was, of a sort. The strings wailed lament, and captivated me, so I listened and watched him for awhile. So many people passed behind me (us) without so much as a glance, or appreciative smile for the serenade. Were they better music critics than I? Were they just in a hurry to see the next tourist site to tick off a list? On their way to find a proper place to have a cigarette? I don’t understand such bustle (apart from getting to/going from work), and take time daily to, often literally, smell the roses, read a page while standing in a bookshop, and certainly listen while a musician plays a tune.

Outside HradThe south side of the castle gives the best views of Prague, its red-tile-roofed homes, church steeples that gave it the “city of a hundred spires” name, and all the baroque architecture that survived numerous wars. This high-embankment garden is the busiest of hrad’s many green spaces because it is the exit-way for the tourists moving through the castle grounds. One can sit here and do some quality people watching. I saw lovers taking pictures of each other sitting precariously on the edge of an embankment wall. I listened to American’s argue about exchange rates. I watched Spanish men make eyes at Italian women (some of whom responded behind their boyfriend/husband’s back). Good stuff, no?

I took a lot of pictures, the bulk of which can be found on my Flickr page. Some few others follow, with titles:

Defiled Mirror

“Defiled Traffic Mirror”


Lion Tamer

“The Lion Tamer”


Mark in Prague: another self portrait

“Self Portrait #51”


Mote Tunnel

“Moat Tunnel”


The Shepherd

“The Shepherd”


The Violin Player

“Rich is the Lone Violin Player”

1 Comment »

  ClaireMargaret wrote @ September 7th, 2008 at 5:22 pm

Hey there, we looked for your blog yesterday and figured you were out and about. The time change is playing havoc with us. Can’t wait to see Prague in person, you “paint” such a beautiful picture.

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